Marin Profile: Terry McGovern, one-man entertainment industry
By Rick Polito,
Beret swept back in aerodynamic profile, eyes intent
behind wire-framed glasses, the man in the front row with the pen and
hangs on every gesture, tuned to every rhythm and glance.
The scene runs on emotion, a slice from "On Golden Pond." The
two actors in the Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn roles are anxious
about nailing those emotions.
And the man in the front row with the pen and the notepad is helping
them do it.
Give yourself some action. Start to walk the stage," he shouts to
Royanne Francis, before telling Steve North, "I want you to allow
us to be worried about you. I want you to not do so much work for us.
Let's do it again," the man with the notepad announces. The actors
find their places, their lines. They begin.
The man with the notepad stops them three beats into the scene. He
has a suggestion ...
The man the beret, notepad and exacting eye is Terry McGovern, a
radio personality-turned actor-turned-dad-turned-voice artist.
And the space
where the actors come to work, and sometimes play, is the Marin
McGovern says he's always been an actor. That's why he's a teacher
It made me really want to teach," McGovern says of his career in film,
TV and commercials. The 62-year-old Kentfield dad made enough money to
call acting "a living," and he spent a fair amount
of the money he made on acting classes. He came to like the give-and-play
of the acting
workshop almost as much as he liked the acting itself.
" You make them see what their shortcomings are and what their strengths
He's not dealing with producers and casting agents. He's working
with actors. They want it to happen.
Once you just give people permission, it's amazing what they will do," McGovern
Robbie Robertson is wearing a ridiculous apron and washing the
same dishes over and over again in a plastic tub as the
15 or so other
look on. The scene is from "My Man Godfrey," and
Robertson's Godfrey is concentrating hard on the nuances,
and the dishes.
His co-star, Hande Gokhas, has more room to move and she
McGovern looks on. He scratches in his notepad. His eyes
dart. But he sits on his hands. Robertson is finishes the
and calls "scene."
McGovern is on his feet in the instant. He has ideas, suggestions.
He doesn't want Robertson to "look down so much." He's playing to the audience,
not the dishes. He wants more flair from Gokhas. "She's a young, beautiful,
rich smart-ass," McGovern says of Gokhas' character.
But with the ideas, with the suggestions, McGovern doesn't
stop to filter his enthusiasm. "I can't wait to see it again next week," he
McGovern doesn't claim he was born an actor. But he'd have to confess to
being an extrovert. He did the school play thing at St. Mary's of
the Mount while growing up in Pittsburgh, but it was in radio that he
his first stage. He had the overnight shift at KDKA in Pittsburgh
and free reign on the microphone. Radio was instant freedom. "I was
just a blue-collar kid," McGovern recalls. "They offered
me more money than my father was making."
Radio helped him move about, learn his way around a microphone and master
a control of the voice that he banks on as a voice artist for video games
But radio also became too small a stage.
The back of his mind was brimming with ideas. "The acting was always
there," he says.
When he arrived in Los Angeles at age 30, he came to act.
three women in the ubiquitous white plastic chairs are having a lot of
fun with "The First Wives Club." Molly McCarthy's delivery
on a plastic surgery barb draws a laugh from the whole room, none louder
By the time the three women are finished, the actors in their own white
plastic chairs are applauding loudly. The applause has little time to die
is on his feet holding the stopwatch that's looped around his neck. "Eight
minutes, 23," he calls out. "We need to cut a minute and a half off
that." The workshop is preparing for a showcase performance, and fitting
in all the scenes and actors is a challenge.
on this night, time is the least of his concerns. He wants to help
Mary Bell "feel real." "Look for what is not like
you in the character. That's where the fun is. That's where you get
to lose yourself." He
wants to help McCarthy, who says she didn't "feel solid." She
needs to throttle her expressions back.
" Even Russian judges would give you an 8." McGovern tells her. "I'm
looking for 6.5."
came to Los Angeles with a briefcase of skills. And he used them. He
appeared on TV, in commercials. He did voice work for animation
was a voice in a Jetsons renaissance from the early 1980s. His resume
roles but steady work in films such as "American Graffiti" and "The
Incredible Shrinking Woman," and voice work on animated shows such as "Duck
Tales," "Transformers" and a reincarnation of "Mighty
Much of the work now is voices for video games. McGovern has voiced
everything from Imperial stormtroopers in the "Star Wars" universe to Professor
PAC in "Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness." They may not be meaty roles
but they draw on every bit of delivery he's been honing for decades. "You
don't have to get into a lot of substance but you have to use a lot of technique," McGovern
says. "You have to nail it."
Marin turns out to be a good place to be for the video game work.
McGovern works with SEGA, Electronic Arts and Leap Frog, all companies
a Bay Area presence. "I'm better off here as a voice actor than if I lived
in Burbank," he notes.
He'd moved around enough in radio. For McGovern, who came to fatherhood
relatively late with two adopted sons he's raised with his wife of
38 years, settling
in Marin has been an opportunity. "I just wanted to get my kids
raised in one house, he says.
But McGovern worries. Even the voice work is moving to Canada, following
the films and TV shows on their trek north. And now big name actors
are splashing into the video game waters.
I'd like to kill Danny DeVito," he jokes.
The scene is from "The Subject was Roses." Robertson is back
under the stage lights, this time with Susan Donnelly. The content
is gut-wrenching. The actors are giving it their best.
When the dialogue is finished and Robertson calls "scene," McGovern
steps into their space. He wants Robertson to use his hands. "American
actors, they're all amputees," he declares. He wants Donnelly to slump
more in her chair. Donnelly says she would "never" sit that way. "This
is not you," McGovern reminds her.
And then he turns to Robertson. Robertson's character is a sleaze.
He wants Robertson to be the same. "I need you to play that heel," McGovern
" Give me some slime!"
The teaching is a kind of acting itself. McGovern has to admit he is
performing. The actors in his workshop know it. They're learning
by watching. They
see all the tools that McGovern has crafted. "You may not be up (on stage)
that night," says John Clevenger, "but you still wouldn't
want to miss a class."
Most of the actors have day jobs. John Reuscher has had his for a
long time. The Novato resident is a financial planner. He was a drama
but he "had to make a living." The acting is more about living
than making a living. "Now my kids are grown and I'm back doing what
I enjoy doing," he says.
Scott Weiss, a manufacturer's representative in Santa Rosa, has much
the same story. "I've been putting it off for 20 years," he says. But
Weiss gets more than acting tips from McGovern's workshop. "This is
thinly veiled psychoanalysis," Weiss notes.
McGovern's work helps the actors think about how they interact with
the world in ways that go beyond their minutes on the stage. Lola
actor, says, "He knows what they need to do to challenge themselves."
McGovern wants the class to be more than group therapy. Acting is
hard work and it should lead to paying work. The Marin Actors Workshop
a casting service," but McGovern's charges are showing up in independent
films and commercials. "The agenda is to get you up and running," he
notes. The upcoming showcase performances are part of that. "I've got
agents coming," he says excitedly.
The buzz of acting, the younger actors and people returning to the craft
are part of what keeps McGovern inspired. He keeps a studio in his house
to record the grind of auditions for voice work, but the excitement in the
classes can feel more tangible.
Teaching acting can be as exciting as acting itself. McGovern hauls
his players across the boards two nights a week at the West End Playhouse. "It's
a workout," he says. "It's three very intense hours.
" You're asking people to make fools of themselves."